How to Make $1,000 Per Week As A Performing Musician
I get myopic when I think about music careers. It’s easy to envision writing songs, working in the studio, recording, managing artists, specializing in music PR, running a label, performing sold-out shows, or landing a song on a hit TV show. Yet these careers are often just a thin slice of all that’s available to you as a musician.
Today, we’re going to spotlight a handful of careers that you can try out if you want to make money as a performing musician. We’ve left out the most obvious ones and focused on jobs where you can learn $1,000 per week, each week, as a performing musician. Of course, pay will vary with your experience, ability, and a little luck — but that’s just how the music industry works.
If you’re looking to make more money from performance, consider trying out one of these careers in music!
Cruise Ship Musician
Performing on ships can satisfy your passion for music and your love of travel. You’ll work for the cruise line and perform with one of the house bands. Your band might rotate from the main theater to the lounges and bars to dining halls and small clubs all the way out to the pool deck. With each change of scenery, you’ll change your musical style. You might accompany guest performers, dancers, or actors, or you might play a few solos for a rapt club audience. Be warned, though: there isn’t much time for practice, so brush up on your sight-reading and improv skills.
There are usually several areas of the ship you can work in. I spoke with several Cruise Ship Musicians, who told me the dining areas and bars are the best. There, you’ll generally a play a mix of jazz standards and songs from The Great American Songbook, which leaves plenty of room for improvisation. In bigger areas or for special events, the set list will usually be crowd pleasers like “Brown Eyed Girl.” This’ll be fun — at first — but can get boring over enough months.
As a Cruise Ship Musician, you get the benefits of a stable employer. Some stay with the same line for decades! There’s also room for advancement with the cruise line, as you can expect regular pay raises or move up to the Musical Director position. If you’re just starting out, the average monthly salary for a Cruise Ship Musician is between $2,000 and $4,500.
Of course, while the pay is nice, many musicians turn to the cruise lines because they offer a way to travel the world. You’ll go all the same places as the cruise guests, with opportunities to go on shore and take part in the same activities. On a cruise line to Hawaii, you’ll be able to go snorkeling and diving before coming back to the line to play a jazz set.
“Musicians are making money in wildly different ways than they did fifteen years ago, and it’s more important than ever that artists have a number of different music-related skills so they’ll have an easier time piecing together a good living. Here’s the reasoning: if you do something you hate and have success, you’ll still hate it; if you do something you hate and fail, all the worse; if you do something you love and fail, at least you did something you loved; if you do something you love and succeed, double win.” — Moby
With the rise of YouTube, Cover Bands have soared in popularity. Of course, there have always been great cover bands. Camp Freddy comes to mind, with Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction. Michael Bublé is internationally famous for performing mostly covers, and Apocalyptica has had a string of popular cello covers of metal songs. There are all kinds of ways to put together a Cover Band and the options are more varied than you probably think.
If you play in a traditional Cover Band, performing in bars and clubs or at weddings, private parties, and special events, then you might make between $200 and $1,000 or more a show. To maximize your income from a Cover Band, focus on weddings, private parties, and corporate events. These generally pay at the top end of the spectrum, whereas bars and pubs will pay towards the bottom end. There are plenty of services out there to help you land more performances and which take fees from the booking party, not you. Try starting with Gigster or Encore.
Cover Bands aren’t just a good source of income via performance. They also offer an opportunity to hone your stage presence and develop a performance style as a band. If you want to perform original music, too, then a Cover Band can be your practice ground for performance, much like how the Beatles performed small gigs in Britain for the decade before they came to America and made it big.
Even then, you don’t have to stop with performance! While your main day-to-day work in a Cover Band will be performing for audiences, you can still take advantage of other revenue streams like music sales by recording your covers (as long as you can get the rights).
Promoting a Cover Band isn’t much different from the rest of music. YouTube and other social media channels can help you promote physical merchandise or sell music. They’ll help you build your reputation in order to get better gigs, too. Plenty of Cover Bands and artists have transitioned from YouTube into paying gigs — don’t overlook the need to promote yourself beyond playing live!
Background or Session Singer
Being a Background or Session Singer is also an option. Background Singers usually perform as part of a group on stage — think backing vocals for Beyoncé. Sometimes, though, the term refers to Session Singers who sing background vocals in the studio.
Depending on how well known you become and/or whether you land a recurring gig with a bigger act, you can earn upwards of $100,000 – though that’s rare. Recurring gigs with top artists like Beyoncé or on popular late night talk shows are among the top-paying, but they certainly aren’t the only options! As a Session Singer, you will provide back-up vocals for a solo Singer or band either on albums, in recordings for other media like radio commercials, or for live performances.
Adaptability is key – you may be asked to perform many different styles since the jobs can vary. The other musicians you work with in the studio or on stage will also change frequently and can be unfamiliar to you. It’s also important to be able to sightread music and harmonize ,as well as work with little to no time to rehearse or prepare. But if you are an excellent singer with a flexible style and an agreeable personality, this could be the right path for you. Be sure to have an updated demo reel handy that showcases your range because these jobs come up quickly and book fast.
“I think the path is different for everybody. Go after the doors that are open to you. That has always been my motto getting into the music business. Do the things that seem to be good opportunities and work hard at it. Try to make good decisions and be nice. Hopefully all of that will pay off at some point.” — Chris Stapleton
Like a Session Singer, the Session Musician plays one (or more than one) instrument accompanying a vocalist or group. (Modern beatmakers can be thought of as an extension to the Session Musician model, with a greater hand in writing the song.) In past years, many musicians played as Session Musicians in recording studios to provide backing tracks for Singers or supplement bands. However, with the advent of cheap recording software and powerful editing tools, many Session Musicians have turned to recording remotely.
If you’re interested in working in studios, then Los Angeles is still the major market. If you record remotely, however, then online platforms like AirGigs or SoundBetter can help you land gigs around the world. The platforms take a small cut but help you work on many more projects. To be successful using this method, you will need your own studio where you can record high-quality tracks and send them to clients.
If you’d prefer to work without a platform, then YouTube, SoundCloud, and networking in your city will be your best routes to work as a Session Musician.
There are a plethora of jobs in the music industry. Securing employment with a cruise ship line or entertainment venue can provide you with steady work while performing as a Session Artist requires a little more flexibility and probably a financial cushion to fall back on when jobs are scarce. Whatever the career you choose, professionalism is tantamount to success – have an up-to-date demo reel that showcases your range, show up on time to auditions and performances, and be sure to emphasize your adaptability to potential employers. Good luck!
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